A 72-year-old drifter with Lorain County roots and a Medina County criminal record is being held in a California prison as a suspected serial killer, and authorities in Ohio and across the country are reviewing old cases to see whether he can be linked to any unsolved homicides.
Samuel Little, who also is known as Samuel McDowell, was tied to the sexually motivated slayings of three woman in the late 1980s by DNA evidence, Los Angeles police Detective Mitzi Roberts said.
“They were all strangulations of women living in high-risk neighborhoods leading high-risk lifestyles,” such as prostitution and drug abuse, Roberts said.
Los Angeles police are asking other law enforcement agencies across the country to look at cold homicide cases to see whether any match the circumstances of the killings already linked to Little.
Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said the LAPD reached out to Elyria detectives last month seeking information on a May 25, 1984, arrest of Little in which he was accused of stealing $320 worth of jeans from the Higbee’s store at Midway Mall.
He said a review of the arrest report indicated that Little had a cast on his right leg at the time and was driving a black 1976 Thunderbird with Georgia license plates. Little also had Delaware County Jail paperwork from the day before his Elyria arrest and a Georgia driver’s license, although he claimed to be living in Ohio at the time.
Costantino said Los Angeles police needed the information for a timeline they are putting together of Little’s movements across the country dating back decades.
He also said that Elyria police Detective Lisa Dietsche has begun to look into unsolved murders in the city.
Lorain County sheriff’s Lt. Donald Barker said his detectives also are looking for a possible link between Little and the skeletal remains of an unidentified woman discovered in a shallow grave on Hawke Road in March 1981. He said detectives plan to examine the old evidence and send any potential DNA samples out for analysis.
Robert said the evidence in the killings Little already is charged with shows a clear sexual motivation behind the killings. All of the victims were discovered in various stages of undress, she said.
The partially clad body of Carol Alford, a 41-year-old mother investigators believe was killed on July 13, 1987, was found in a Los Angeles alley “thrown out like trash,” Roberts said.
Audrey Nelson, 35, is believed to have been killed on Aug. 14, 1989, and her body was discovered in a central area of Los Angeles in a Dumpster behind a restaurant. Roberts said Nelson was nude except for a sweater.
The third victim who Little is suspected of killing is 46-year-old mother Guadalupe Apodaca, who died on Sept. 3, 1989. Her body, which was nude except for a shirt clinging to one arm, was in an abandoned commercial area in a seedy part of the city, Roberts said.
The LAPD’s Cold Case Homicide Unit requested DNA tests on evidence gathered in those cases and hits linking Little to two of the slayings came back last April, Roberts said. By the time DNA evidence from the Alford killing was delivered to police in November, Little was already in custody.
He had been arrested in September by U.S. Marshals at a Louisville, Ky., homeless shelter on an outstanding California drug warrant and extradited to the West Coast.
Roberts said there’s no doubt in her mind that Little is a prolific serial killer who left a trail of bodies across the country.
“I think we’ve just really scratched the surface,” she said.
The current case isn’t the first time Little has been accused of murder. He was acquitted of murder in connection with the 1982 strangulation death of another woman in Gainesville, Fla., court records show. He also was a suspect in a 1982 slaying in Pascagoula, Miss., but was never indicted.
Roberts said that Pascagoula authorities have reopened their investigation into that death and Florida law enforcement also is looking into other killings that could have been the work of Little.
Little was born in 1940 in Reynolds, Ga., but grew up in Lorain. Costantino said local records indicate he attended school in Lorain in the early 1950s.
It doesn’t appear that Little ever graduated from high school, but he did forge a career in crime, racking up a criminal record in 24 states, Roberts said.
His first brush with the law appears to have come in 1957 when he was sentenced to an Ohio juvenile detention facility for a breaking and entering. Court records indicate he remained in custody until June 7, 1961, his 21st birthday.
But Little, who was using the McDowell name at the time, didn’t remain free long. He was convicted of burglary and sentenced to prison in 1961 for breaking into R&S Furniture on Broadway in Lorain on July 28 of that year. He was released in 1964.
From there, court records show that McDowell was in and out of trouble for decades.
Many of Little’s crimes were relatively minor — theft, DUI and drug possession arrests in locations such as Ohio, Louisiana, Alabama, Oregon, Texas, Georgia and Arizona, to name a few.
“He stole in the day and that would support his extracurricular activities at night,” Roberts said.
But there are more serious charges in Little’s criminal history that indicate a propensity for violence and sex crimes.
For instance, Little was convicted of assault with intent to rob in Baltimore in 1967 and sentenced to prison.
He was charged and convicted of soliciting the services of a prostitute in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1973 and received probation. That same year he was convicted of assaulting a police officer in Trenton, N.J.
He also has faced assault, kidnapping, attempted murder and other serious charges over the years. He was convicted of attacks on women in San Diego in the 1980s and sentenced to two years in prison.
But as in Gainesville, Little hasn’t always been convicted of the crimes of which he’s been accused.
Cuyahoga County court records indicate that Little was charged with armed robbery in 1971 under the McDowell name, but a jury acquitted him of the charge in 1972.
Also in 1971, Little was charged with aggravated assault and sodomy in Cuyahoga County, but those charges were dropped in 1977, according to court records.
Maria Russo, spokeswoman for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, said that the old Little case actually was in court last year because the warrant for his arrest was never canceled. She said removing the warrant was a housekeeping matter and her office has not been contacted by Los Angeles police about Little.
In the wind
Roberts said that part of the difficulty in catching up with Little after he first was identified last year as a suspect in the 1980s Los Angeles killings was his tendency to get arrested for minor crimes and be released from custody. He then disappeared.
Little had been wanted for years in California for a 2007 drug conviction for which he was placed in a diversion program. He twice skipped out on the program, most recently in 2009, she said, and had an active warrant for his arrest.
But because prosecutors rarely seek extradition for low-level drug cases, Little was never sent back to California when he was arrested elsewhere.
It wasn’t the first time Little had fled an area to avoid prosecution or a sentence.
For instance, Little was charged with shoplifting from a Kmart in Medina in June 1994 but disappeared after being released on bond. He wasn’t arrested in that case again until 1999 and pleaded guilty to theft with a violence specification. He was sentenced to prison in that case.
In another instance, Little was charged with robbery in 1991 for threatening a clerk at a Lorain convenience store when he stole a carton of Winston cigarettes. He pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in February 1992 but failed to show up for his sentencing.
He finally was found and sentenced to prison in 1999 and unsuccessfully pushed then-Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Kosma Glavas for an early release several times.
“I am writing to ask you for one last chance to turn my life around at my age,” the then-60-year-old Little wrote to Glavas in 2000. “I no longer have the urge to run wild, I have reach (sic) the time in my life where I realize my life is getting short.”
Roberts said Little was staying at a Louisville homeless shelter when he was arrested by U.S. Marshals. He wasn’t at the shelter when authorities first arrived, but they waited and took him into custody when he returned about six hours later.
Anyone with information about Little and other possible victims should contact Roberts or Detective Rick Jackson at (213) 486-6810.
Contact reporter Brad Dicken at (440) 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.